By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 8th) – I know I’m dreaming a little here, or maybe a lot. But, I keep imagining the environment at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday night if the NHL and its players were able to shake hands on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. How incredibly uplifting it would be for the entire hockey universe on the occasion of Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, Adam Oates and Pavel Bure going into the Hall as the Class of 2012.
Have I lost my mind? Probably. Given the tone of conversation that dates to mid-summer, I’ve been acutely skeptical that hockey will be played anytime before the New Year. But, I’m also one to embrace hope. And hope has risen a tad with players and owners negotiating over three consecutive days for the first time – in season – since the initial lockout ended on Jan. 11, 1995.
PATRICK MARLEAU OF SAN JOSE POUNCES ON REBOUND FROM NIKLAS BACKSTROM DURING SHARKS AT MINNESOTA GAME LAST FEB. 26. ONLY UNINTERRUPTED NEGOTIATION WILL RETURN NHL TO THE ICE. ANDY KING GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
In the failed dispute of 2004-05, which led to cancellation of the entire season and playoffs, the two sides went 78 days without meeting (Sep. 16 to Dec. 9). An abbreviated gathering ended without progress and another short session – five days later – began a 36-day gap between negotiations (Dec. 14 to Jan. 19). The longest get-together in that labor squabble was 9½ hours spread over two days at a Chicago airport hotel, Jan. 19 and 20, 2005. Gary Bettman canceled the season three weeks later. So, the current three-day streak has broken the modest record from 2004-05.
Is that reason for excitement? Who knows. Maybe the sides will emerge from these latest talks without progress, spawning another lengthy negotiating void. Any such development would all but destroy the chance of a season beginning in December. Conversely, the owners and players may determine there’s enough traction to continue talking until an agreement is reached. That is the lone reasonable path to a new CBA; it will not result from a spur-of-the-moment gathering.
So, why not “dream a little dream” – in the musical words of the 1960s folk-rock group The Mamas and Papas. Maybe we’ll wake up with a new hockey season… and a wondrous evening on Monday at the Hall of Fame.
And, speaking of wondrous, happy 88th birthday to the most beloved player in Toronto Maple Leafs history – Johnny Bower. Keep on truckin’ China Wall.
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